Saying it is time for every diocese and religious order in the state “to come clean,” attorneys Friday filed the first of six lawsuits by victims who allege they were sexually abused by a priest while attending St. Francis High School in La Canada Flintridge.
During a news conference at the Hilton Checkers Los Angeles hotel downtown, lawyer Jeff Anderson said a new law, known as the Child Victims Act, gives new hope to alleged victims like the plaintiff in the current Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, who is identified only as John Doe LA 1002. He is suing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and St. Francis High School.
A representative for the archdiocese issued a statement regarding the lawsuit. According to the statement, Doe’s alleged abuser, the Rev. Christopher Kearney, was not a member of the archdiocese but instead, of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, an independent order that runs St. Francis High School.
Kearney was included as a religious order priest in the list of publicly accused clergy members which the archdiocese published in 2004, according to the statement.
“The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is committed to transparency and has established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victim-survivors in our parishes, schools and ministries,” the statement read. “The archdiocese was one of the first dioceses in the nation to publish a comprehensive report in 2004 listing accused clergy both living and deceased, and released clergy files as part of a 2007 global settlement.”
The representative referred all calls regarding the lawsuit to the Capuchin order. A message left at the Capuchin order was not returned.
AB 218 extends the statute of limitations and provides a three-year window for sexual abuse survivors to bring lawsuits in cases that were previously barred by the statute of limitations, no matter when the abuse occurred or how old the survivor is. Attorney Michael Finnegan, who also represents the plaintiff, said the law includes the assessment of triple damages against those found to have covered up the sexual assault of a minor.
Doe was 15 to 17 years old from 1984-86 when he maintains he was abused by Kearney, the suit states. In addition to being a student, Doe was an altar server and parishioner, according to the suit.
“Seeing (Kearney) as a trustworthy mentor, plaintiff was conditioned to comply with (Kearney’s) direction and to respect him as a person and authority in spiritual ethical and educational matters,” the suit states.
Kearney was actually grooming Doe, and his actions culminated in his “repeated sexual abuse of plaintiff,” the suit alleges.
Anderson said dioceses across the state need to come forward and reveal the current whereabouts of accused priests like Kearney.
“It’s time for every diocese … to come clean, to reveal like they never have before,” Anderson said.
Kearney has been living in San Francisco and poses a serious risk to children, he said.
“It’s time for this serial offender to be exposed in a way he never has been,” he said.
Attorney Michael Reck, who also represents the plaintiff, said the church has been tight-lipped about Kearney.
“We have not been told whether he is still a priest or if he has access to children,” Reck said.
Attorneys for the same law firm have filed a similar suit in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of two former Mater Dei students.
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